All News

Survey: SMS While Driving Should Be Outlawed

According to an online survey conducted in late June, by Harris Interactive (2,000 US adults) for Pinger, a large majority of U.S. adults believe that reading or sending email or text messages from behind the wheel is as dangerous as drunk driving and should be outlawed -- yet a majority have done it themselves.

Pinger is a service that voice-enables text messaging. The company is using the survey to promote its service.

Here are some additional top-level findings:

  • 91% of adults thought that drivers distracted by sending text messages or mobile email were as dangerous as drivers who had a couple of drinks
  • 89% believe that sending emails or SMS messages while driving should be outlawed
  • 66% of adults that have used text messaging have read text messages or emails while driving
  • 57% of that population admitted sending SMS messages or emails while driving
  • 64 % of adults who admitted to sending text messages while driving were between the ages of 18 and 34, while only 6% were 55 or older
  • Men and women sent text messages while driving at equal rates

State legislatures are starting to address the issue, with Washintong having passed the first ban on SMS while driving. Numerous other states including CA and NY are considering a similar ban.

Cellfire Releases Mobile Coupon Redemption Data

It's a great idea "on paper" -- so to speak -- mobile coupons, that is. They've arrived in principle but not really in practice. Internet-based coupons have yet to take off, although they're poised to do so. But mobile coupons, despite being available today, are even farther off as a mainstream marketing phenomenon. (That is, perhaps, unless they morph into SMS-based ads.)

The idea of being able to search for coupons when you're on the go is appealing to virtually everyone, however the challenge is coverage and user adoption. Eventually coupons (or some equivalent) will make their way into the mobile marketing mix but it will be a little while. Even Cellfire, the leader in mobile couponing right now, has very limited coverage in terms of the consumer offers available.

Last week, the company put out data on mobile coupon redemption for the six months ending June 30:

Top 10 Markets for Mobile Coupon Usage per Capita:

  1. Miami/Fort Lauderdale
  2. Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, CA
  3. Chico/Redding, CA
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
  5. Waco/Temple-Bryan, TX
  6. El Paso (Las Cruces), TX (NM)
  7. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, CA
  8. Jonesboro, AR
  9. West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce, FL
  10. Atlanta, GA

According to Cellfire:

Not surprisingly, 68 percent of coupons redeemed were from mobile savvy shoppers between the ages of 18-34, followed by shoppers aged 35-44 with 18 percent. Food and entertainment topped the list of categories for which coupons were most frequently redeemed.

The fact that Sacramento and Chico, CA beat out the San Francisco Bay Area, shows how small the user base is right now. The model is right: opt-in offers from local merchants and national advertisers with local stores. In the near term it will mostly be about big boxes and chains. But eventually SMBs may play in the space if enabled by sites such as Zixxo and others. But for right now there's the familiar and fundamental "chicken and egg problem." In order to gain consumer adoption, the coupon/offer coverage must be there and to entice advertisers to pay attention there must be an audience. The advantage that coupons have is that they can be translated into other formats (including mobile) if the infrastructure exists to support them and prevent fraud.

As I suggested above mobile "coupons" may give way to offer-based SMS marketing in the near term not unlike the way MoVoxx (started by the founders of Infreeda) went from being a mobile coupon provider to an SMS ad agency/network.

LMS in the News: Mobile Europe - August 1, 2007

Excerpt:
Location-based services are making a comeback. The initial excitement about them fizzled out because neither the phones nor the data plans could deliver. What's more, the vision of a service that could push coupons to users as they passed stores and shops was a privacy nightmare, observes Greg Sterling, a senior analyst at Local Mobile Search, an advisory service from Opus Research and Sterling Market Intelligence.

"It was a pipedream, and even if it would have worked in principle, it lacked the context to be more than annoying spam," Sterling says. After all, a coupon for a restaurant is pretty much meaningless unless the service can establish the mobile user is looking for a place to eat. It's an important piece of the location services puzzle that can be provided by mobile search. In Sterling's view mobile search is the ingredient that can turn location-based services into profitable value propositions.

This new breed of location-based services is bound to take off - but only if it's offered free to consumers, Sterling says. This is borne out by data from Opus and Local Mobile Search that predicts a dismal future for the paid directory service business. It reckons revenues will drop from $3.5 billion in 2006 to $1.8 billion by 2010 in the U.S. alone. At the same time the advertiser-supported model, which offers consumers free directory services, is expected to increase to a $3 billion business in 2010 from $203 million in 2006.

From the article, "Taking search to another level", Mobile Europe, August 1, 2007

Dial Directions Launches with Impressive Capabilities

I spoke yesterday with Amit Desai, co-founder and chief product officer of Dial Directions (347-328-4667), a new voice-based local mobile search service. It offers an impressive voice interface that allows users to identify where they are and a desired location and receive a text message back with turn-by-turn directions. You can also use the service to find the nearest location of a particular business (right now chains: e.g., Peet's Coffee or a specific address).

The demo I heard on the phone and in my subsequent several tests were impressive. The voice recognition and call flow was easy to use and accurate. The service is available now in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. Underlying data are being provided by multiple sources and directions are from MapQuest. The service will quickly expand to other cities and add additional capabilities in the near future.

While this is being presented as a free way to receive directions the service is very clearly a local mobile search tool. As more data are added to the database it will be something that people use to find the "nearest (type of business)." Desai and I also spoke about social features that will be added to the product over time.

Beyond the quality of the speech recognition, the thing that makes this service relatively unique is that you can identify your currently location in an easy way (by intersection, address) and it effectively turns a conventional mobile phone into a GPS device.

The service is free and the business model will be advertising, but not audio adds like those on Free411 or AT&T's 800-Yellowpages. Rather they'll be text ads on the SMS messages that users receive in response to their queries. (A similar offering exists in the UK with Miva's PPText ads on the 118118 service.) Dial Directions wants to partner with existing sales channels and mobile ad networks rather than do direct sales.

Desai sees the service as a direct-to-consumer play but also a white label offering for carriers and others that want to add this functionality to enhanced directory assistance or their existing services

It's very clear that the increasing competition in voice-enabled local mobile search is going to accelerate the development of the products and feature sets being offered to consumers and that voice search on mobile devices will be the first mass-market local mobile search tool that gains broad user adoption.

Google: Two Outta Four Ain't Bad

Google might be wondering: "How does that Meatloaf song go?"

The search engine is seeking to penetrate and open up the walled garden that is the US wireless market. Carriers are the gatekeepers, controlling access and the devices available to consumers. In Europe the situation is quite different, allowing consumers to buy any phone and essentially use them with any operator. Google had made a very public appeal to the FCC to provide more open access to the wireless spectrum to be offered at the upcoming auction.

The company had set a number of conditions that it believes would benefit consumers and lead to more innovation in mobile. Yesterday, the FCC gave Google some -- but not all -- of what it wanted.

Google had asked for four things from the FCC:

  • Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: third parties (like internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at a technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network.

Google got two out of those four from the FCC. The company offered qualified praise for the move on its public policy blog. The part that Google did not get was compulsory access to the network on a wholesale basis from the auction winner.

It now remains to be seen whether Google does put up some or all of the the $4.6 billion it said it would potentially bid for the spectrum if its conditions were met.

There's more discussion at Techmeme. Offficial FCC statements are also available here.

Jacksonville Site of First "Say Hello" Local Voice Portal

Toronto-based Call Genie announced that the first of many prospective metropolitan "America Say Hello" voice portals will be launched in Jacksonville, FL, in conjunction with Morris Communications' Florida Times Union. The service will be called "Jax Say Hello" and will include "free" (advertiser supported) access to residential, business and government telephone listings, augmented by proven, high-volume information services, like sports scores, weather, movie theater listings and selected classified advertising (cars and real estate).

America Say Hello, based in Mountain View, CA, is an early-stage company with ambitious plans to roll-out local voice portal services in several cities around the country. Morris Communications, which publishes 27 newspapers around the U.S. is one of its investors. In addition to the Times Union, its largest holding, Morris operates newspapers in Augusta, GA; Topeka, KS; Lubbock, TX; Savannah, GA; and Amarillo, TX.

The service combines automated Directory Assistance and information services with live operator assistance from outsourcing specialist iTouchPoint (ITP). This mixture of voice automation, IP-based call routing and live agent intervention exemplifies the most promising architecture for cost-effective, voice-based services. The Call Genie front end puts local directory listings and category search into the core of the service. Participation of a newspaper publisher as investor and advertising/content provider stand to make "Say Hello" set the stage for meaningful competition with other "free" DA platforms at the local level.

Mobile Europe - August 1, 2007

Excerpt:

Location-based services are making a comeback. The initial excitement about them fizzled out because neither the phones nor the data plans could deliver. What's more, the vision of a service that could push coupons to users as they passed stores and shops was a privacy nightmare, observes Greg Sterling, a senior analyst at Local Mobile Search, an advisory service from Opus Research and Sterling Market Intelligence.

"It was a pipedream, and even if it would have worked in principle, it lacked the context to be more than annoying spam," Sterling says. After all, a coupon for a restaurant is pretty much meaningless unless the service can establish the mobile user is looking for a place to eat. It's an important piece of the location services puzzle that can be provided by mobile search. In Sterling's view mobile search is the ingredient that can turn location-based services into profitable value propositions.

This new breed of location-based services is bound to take off - but only if it's offered free to consumers, Sterling says. This is borne out by data from Opus and Local Mobile Search that predicts a dismal future for the paid directory service business. It reckons revenues will drop from $3.5 billion in 2006 to $1.8 billion by 2010 in the U.S. alone. At the same time the advertiser-supported model, which offers consumers free directory services, is expected to increase to a $3 billion business in 2010 from $203 million in 2006.

From the article, "Taking search to another level", Mobile Europe, August 1, 2007

Google: Speech One of Two Big Research Projects

A couple of weeks ago MIT's Technology Review published an interview with Google Director of Research Peter Norvig that explores his (and presumably Google's) thinking about problems in search and "next-generation" search functionality that Google is working on. Speech recognition, which powers Goog411, is one of the two big research projects the company is working on right now.

Here are some relevant excerpts from the interview:

Q: Which research has the most people and funding?

NORVIG: The two biggest projects are machine translation and the speech project. Translation and speech went all the way from one or two people working on them to, now, live systems.

Q: Like the Google Labs project called GOOG-411 [a free service that lets people search for local businesses by voice, over the phone]. Tell me more about it.

NORVIG: I think it's the only major [phone-based business-search] service of its kind that has no human fallback. It's 100 percent automated, and there seems to be a good response to it. In general, it looks like things are moving more toward the mobile market, and we thought it was important to deal with the market where you might not have access to a keyboard or might not want to type in search queries.

Q: And speech recognition can also be important for video search, isn't it? Blinkx and Everyzing are two examples of startups that are using the technology to search inside video. Is Google working on something similar?

NORVIG: Right now, people aren't searching for video much. If they are, they have a very specific thing in mind like "Coke" and "Mentos." People don't search for things like "Show me the speech where so-and-so talks about this aspect of Middle East history." But all of that information is there, and with speech recognition, we can access it.

We wanted speech technology that could serve as an interface for phones and also index audio text. After looking at the existing technology, we decided to build our own. We thought that, having the data and computational resources that we do, we could help advance the field. Currently, we are up to state-of-the-art with what we built on our own, and we have the computational infrastructure to improve further. As we get more data from more interaction with users and from uploaded videos, our systems will improve because the data trains the algorithms over time.

___

Google's apparent commitment to speech is striking and reflects its importance in mobile, but longer term in other areas on the desktop. Anecdotal evidence suggests users are fairly happy with the Goog411 service though it has no human agent backup and fails to recognize queries some percentage of the time.

iPhone Becoming a Hot Mobile Development Platform

Infospace

The iPhone, despite falling short of some analysts' projections/expectations, still sold 270,000 units in less than 30 hours. Largely because it sparked a debate about mobile usability and is starting to influence the designs of other handset makers, the iPhone has already had a dramatic impact on the market – even at these sales levels.

Plus the fashion statement and "cool factor" of having an iPhone is unparalleled. Blackberry users and some Treo owners love their phones, but they don't have the same pizzazz. It's very much akin to the PC market: PCs are gray, utilitarian boxes while Apple has been able to create buzz and excitement about iMacs and laptops (as well as iPods) through careful attention to product design.

Now a broad range of third-party developers are creating applications for the iPhone (not unlike Facebook on the desktop or ZenZui or Where in mobile) that may accelerate its momentum and have already made it the hottest mobile platform. Add to that list of applications InfoSpace's local search tool FindIt!.

InfoSpace's Joe Herzog said to me this morning in an email:

This is part of an overall push to create more distribution on high end media devices and to support AT&T as a major distribution point for Find It. And an effort to get to "free" across the board for consumers. The user experience was optimized for the iPhone browsing experience. We view the iPhone as a critical tipping point for the use of mobile media and mobile applications in general and will continue to support this platform with aggressive upgrades.

FindIt! joins Google Maps as a second specialized local search application on the device. Of course users have access, through Safari, to any local site online. InfoSpace has a similar application for the Blackberry, as well as working with wireless carriers such as AT&T and Sprint to provide local data, directions and mapping functionality.

Sprint and Google in WiMax Deal

Wireless carrier Sprint and Google have announced a partnership in which Google will provide "Web search, interactive communications and social networking services on devices for the new high-speed wireless network the carrier is building," according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Sprint is building a national WiMax broadband network to provide consumers with wireless Internet access. Among the services Google will reportedly be providing to Sprint are general Web search, GTalk and, potentially, other services.

What's interesting here is that Sprint previously announced a far-reaching partnership with Microsoft characterized as "a strategic alliance through which the companies will develop and deliver a range of innovative new service offerings for Sprint’s business and consumer customers." That deal includes search on mobile phones but Sprint has obviously chosen another partner for search on its burgeoning WiMax network.

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Related: Coverage of the announcement from Reuters.

Google's $4.6 Billion Bandwidth Bid Signals Buy-in to Mobile Applications

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Precis

Local Mobile Search Advisory
The giant company whose name is synonymous with Web search is ready to invest a minimum of $4.6 billion to acquire wireless bandwidth that is unfettered by carrier affiliation, device "lock-in" and general lack of "openness." Google is joined by a number of other service providers who would like to attain access to a national wireless network on a wholesale basis. With an auction scheduled for the first quarter of 2008, the cause of Local Mobile Search will have a decidedly national, even global, scope.

Featured Research is available to registered users only.

For more information on becoming an I2G client, please contact Pete Headrick ([email protected]).


TomTom To Spend over $2.5 billion for Tele Atlas

The market for personal navigation devices is growing rapidly, and TomTom NV has been a direct beneficiary. It is a profitable company whose U.S. sales, in terms of units will more than double in 2007 over 2006 (reaching 6-7 million units). But TomTom's executive team is made up of product and marketing managers who have brought new solutions to the marketplace, like the addition of a highly effective automated speech-based interfaces and the rendering the core product as software that can be downloaded to smartphones.

Acquiring Tele Atlas is an exercise in vertical integration. TomTom knows that complete solutions include much more than PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices); they include software and services that are instantiated as auto electronics or software in wireless devices. Tele Atlas and TomTom have enjoyed a long and prosperous vendor/supplier relationship. In the past few years, Tele Atlas has aggressively pursued opportunities and partnerships in Local Mobile Search - having its database and services baked into solutions from Google, Yahoo! and MSN as well as mobile device makers RIM and Nokia.

The combination of TomTom and Tele Atlas brings together a company that has demonstrated responsiveness to user requirements for a positive experience through a multiplicity of devices and modalities, with a data aggregator/supplier that has extensive experience forging relationships with go-to-market partners with solutions of their own. In a recent presentation to financial analysts, Rik Temmink, Sr. Director of Segment Marketing, demonstrated that Tele Atlas fully appreciates the need to integrate local content and advertising with core maps and navigation.

Few other firms also understand from first hand experience the need to solidify business models and division of revenue schemes that benefit provide sufficient incentive for all involved. Presently, Tele Atlas has three possibilities: (1) a percentage of a user subscription fee or per query fee; (2) Subscription fees for "navigation upsells" (per Nokia); and (3) Fee for "API access" from other companies' applications (as they are doing with RIM).

In the near future, the combination of TomTom and Tele Atlas expect to garner revenues that combine device sales with a split of the revenue for map licensing and advertising.

Search Engine Exalead Broadens France EDA Service

Gary Price at ResourceShelf alerted me to the fact that enhanced DA provider 118218 in France (owned by InfoNXX, which also operates the U.K.'s 118118) has now considerably expanded its service using content and results from EU search engine Exalead. Users in France pay for 118128 like traditional directory assistance in the U.S., although it's considerably broader in scope.

In the U.S., Tellme, 1-800-YellowPages, Jingle Networks and Google (Goog411) are seeking to offer free, ad-supported enhanced DA. However, with the exception of Tellme, the only real enhancement vs. traditional is business category search.

And like Jingle's Free411, 118128 also offers a companion Internet local search and shopping site. In the U.K., InfoNXX's 118118 features ads, including contextual ads in return text messages responding to DA queries.

Google Announces Intention to Bid for Wireless Spectrum

Excerpts from the Google press release:

In a filing with the FCC on July 9, Google urged the Commission to adopt rules for the auction that ensure that, regardless of who wins the spectrum at auction, consumers' interests are served. Specifically, Google encouraged the FCC to require the adoption of four types of "open" platforms as part of the license conditions:

  • Open applications: Consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: Third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: Third parties (like internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network.

Today, as a sign of Google's commitment to promoting greater innovation and choices for consumers, CEO Eric Schmidt sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, stating that should the FCC adopt all four license conditions requested above, Google intends to commit a minimum of $4.6 billion to bidding in the upcoming 700 MHz auction.

This might be seen as a bid to force the FCC and others to comply with its conditions or compete with Google in the open market at a price of at least $4.6 billion for the licenses. But it also indicates that Google is much more serious about mobile than simply being one of several mobile search and ad networks.

Here's Google's blog posting about the issue and their thinking.

How Do You Use Your Mobile Phone?

I spent some time on Facebook last night and constructed a short poll, partly to test that feature of the site and to see what the results would be. I asked the single question, "How do you use your mobile phone?"

While the responses are not statistically valid for the entire U.S. marketplace, they are nonetheless interesting and surprisingly consistent with other data and internal estimates that Dan Miller and I have put together.

The range of potential responses to my question (there were 500 respondents) were as follows:

  • I just make calls
  • I mainly text message people
  • I call and text message people
  • I call, text and surf the mobile Internet

Here were the breakdown of responses:

  • I just make calls (10%)
  • I mainly text message people (9%)
  • I call and text message people (68%)
  • I call, text and surf the mobile Internet (14%)

The gender and age breakdown was as follows:

  • Female (91%) -- this is interesting
  • Male (9%)
  • 13-17 (40%)
  • 18-24 (55%) -- the core demographic of Facebook
  • 25-34 (4%)
  • 35-49 (>1%)

What this quick poll reveals is that (no surprise) most younger mobile users are very involved with text messaging but a meaningful number are starting to "surf the mobile Internet." The degree of frequency and engagement with mobile Internet usage will vary considerably but it's clearly growing fast.

If the data above were statistically valid and could be extrapolated to the entire US mobile user population (it cannot), that would mean about 32 million users of the mobile Internet, which is consistent with our estimate. Recently comScore and M:Metrics have put out data showing that, respectively, 17% and 15% of mobile users access Internet content on their phones.

The recent Ingenio-Harris Interactive mobile user survey (which involved US adults 18+) found a smaller number of users of the mobile Internet today (roughly 16.9 million using the same base as above). But many of the 13-17 year olds captured in the Facebook data above, who did "surf the mobile Internet" were not part of the Harris survey. Again, the Facebook data are not statistically valid but directionally interesting nonetheless . . .

Ingenio-Harris Mobile User Survey: Mobile Web to Grow, Ad Outlook Mixed

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Precis

Local Mobile Search Advisory
A recent Ingenio-sponsored survey by Harris Interactive explored a range of topics pertaining to mobile voice and data usage, as well as consumer acceptance of mobile advertising. The results show consumers are quickly expanding the use of mobile phones beyond voice-only capabilities, but monetizing those activities through mobile advertising remains an uphill battle.

Featured Research is available to registered users only.

For more information on becoming an I2G client, please contact Pete Headrick ([email protected]).


WSJ: New Google Mobile Content Search Nearing Launch

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) is reporting that Google is preparing to launch a more structured mobile search capability and index for mobile content that may also include social networking features. According to the article:

Google Inc. is developing a new search service for cellphones that will help consumers find and buy ringtones, games and other mobile content ...

With the new system, users would search for a piece of content -- say, a U2 ringtone -- and get back a list of providers as well as links enabling them to easily purchase the material. Eventually, Google would charge companies for high placement in the search results ...

The company has been working for months with content providers -- including large entertainment companies and smaller mobile-media aggregators -- to index their material and make it available via mobile search ...

The Internet company has considered including a social-networking component that would let users of the company's Gmail email service exchange content, a person familiar with the initiative says. Overall, the service would work much like the Google Product Search service, formerly known as Froogle, people familiar with the situation say. A spokeswoman for Google declines to comment.

The ringtones aspect of the hypothetical service would put Google at odds with carriers -- not that that isn't already true to some degree because of carrier Googlephobia.

There's a way in which the article doesn't exactly ring true (so to speak). The article presents the concept of something akin to a separate index or engine for mobile content vs. other Google mobile services. Assuming the article is directionally correct, I would imagine that Google is seeking to create something closer to a better, more integrated mobile experience overall (akin to what Yahoo is attempting with oneSearch) with content and commerce as a subset of that broader mobile search capability.

Jingle Scores with SuperPages Relationship

One of the big challenges for the nascent ad-supported directory assistance category is ad coverage -- having enough advertisers to offer ads on enough calls to offset costs. According to its public statements, Jingle Networks is now doing call volumes of more than 20 million per month. The company asserts a per-call cost structure of roughly $.12 - $.15 per call and claims roughly 1000 advertisers to date. It has a direct sales channel for national accounts but myriad relationships with third party channels and small business aggregators such as ServiceMagic and Ingenio for local advertiser acquisitions.

With today's announced of a distribution deal with Idearc's SuperPages (the publisher of Verizon yellow pages) the company has scored a potentially major win that could mean a material difference in its revenues and ultimate fate. SuperPages has an estimated 800,000+ advertisers, not all of which will be funneled into Free411 of course. (According to SuperPages the program will immediately tap their Pay-for-Calls advertisers, which are about 5,000.)

However, the value of simple access to an established pool of advertisers of that size cannot be overstated. And it's probably far more valuable, as a practical matter, than Jingle's recently announced patent.

There are now four major national competitors in ad-supported DA:

  • 1-800-Free411 (Jingle)
  • Goog411 (not yet ad supported)
  • Tellme (Microsoft; also without ads in local)
  • 1-800-YellowPages (AT&T)

Although there other competitors, including the long-established 1-800-SanDiego, there are arguably none that can rival the resources and advantages of these major players. One exception is Verizon, which will join these ranks soon.

Voom (411): InFone Redux?

Voom 411, LLC, is trialing what it calls a first-of-its-kind, "live, local, Web-enabled" directory assistance for the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN) metropolitan area. Calls to (612) 866-6411, reach "internet savvy" live operators who will conduct search engine look-ups on behalf of callers and provide such info as phone listings; local news, weather and sports scores; events, restaurants and movie information, "and more".

Like the ill-fated InFone service from MetroOne, Voom indicates that it will require callers to provide their credit card information to support billing and collections. Pricing has not yet been announced, but the Web site indicates that $0.99 buys a bundle of nine calls. The trial period is scheduled to last until the end of August with operators on duty between 7:30 AM and 7:30 PM (Monday through Friday). Then the company promises general availability in September - meaning that service will expand to includ 7am to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 7am to 3am on Friday and Saturday.

While we like the idea of human-assisted Web searches over the phone, Voom 411 invokes a number of alarm bells. As enhanced DA specialist MetroOne learned about five years ago, prospective callers balk at providing credit card information for pre-registered DA queries. As dozens of operator-assisted Yellow Pages service providers have discovered, $0.99 per minute will not provide sufficient profit margin to sustain a business.

Most importantly, the mobile mob is moving to "free" (meaning advertiser-supported) services.

There are some interesting business cases to be built around real-time access to experts over the telephone to support local search, but a resurrection of MetroOne's InFone strikes us as a non-starter. Voom 411 will know more after the end of its test period.

800 YELLOWPAGES Pursues California-wide Strategy

As Bakersfield goes, so goes the rest of the state - at least in terms of Free Directory Assistance. After a few short months in Bakersfield, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; and Oklahoma City, Okla., AT&T has deemed its free directory assistance service ready for a bigger audience. Bear in mind California has something like 20% of the U.S. population. If it were an independent country it would be roughly the tenth largest economy in terms of GDP. Thus state-wide roll-out of 1-800-YELLOWPAGES (1-800 935-5697) is truly significant.

More important than the aggregate size of the California economy are the individual markets that it encompasses. In addition to general sponsorships to subsidize the initial call, AT&T is also establishing opportunities for more sponsored category search and for re-directs in some of the largest, most-affluent markets in the country, including Los Angeles, San Fancisco, San Diego and San Jose. All have much higher profiles and probably better aggregate demographics than Bakersfield (no offense).

The bottom line is that, while alternative Free DA search providers position themselves for pitched battle in the court of intellectual property, AT&T may be ready to take on rival in the marketplace of public opinion (and usage) on a local market by local market basis.